It’s a sunny week in August and even before I round the corner to the playing fields of the Highfield Oval in Harpenden, I can hear shouts of fun and laughter. On the field there is a group of children energetically playing football with members of the Harpenden Colts. While that is happening, Damilare Adetayo from Youth With A Mission is setting up a circle of African Drums ready to be played – while Paul Sands is collecting large amounts of hand sanitiser ready for the kids to use before the next activity, cricket.
It is only the hand sanitiser that reminds you that these are not ordinary times. These children have had to put up with a lot due to Lockdown and schools being closed – now that the summer holidays are here, many kids’ clubs and camps that would previously have entertained kids are shut due to restrictions. Which is why the Summer Fun activity programme was dreamed up by Councillor Teresa Heritage and sponsored by the Harpenden Trust. Teresa, together with fellow County Councillor David Williams, also provided funds from their locality budgets to sponsor the programme.
Cllr Heritage is President of the Harpenden Trust, she explains: “It was a seed in my mind during Lockdown. I had visions of the children in our community not having anything to do in the summer holidays, because we just didn’t know what was going to happen. I looked around and saw leisure centres were not open for their kids’ clubs, schools didn’t know if they would run their holiday clubs… so I thought, let’s see what I can do.”
What could be done, as it turns out was an awful lot – at impressive speed considering the joint challenge of organising activities involving children, alongside huge restrictions post Covid-19.
Advertising on the Harpenden Cares Facebook page for suggestions of what could be done, a committee of 8 volunteers was swiftly recruited by Teresa and one of them, Sarah Holmes, took up the baton to act as lead, “What would I have done without Sarah?”, says Teresa, “she was a real help”. Teresa continues, “I would really like to take the opportunity to thank the residents for stepping up once again to support the community”.
Having an enthusiastic team in place was a great start but, the event needed a sponsor, so the Harpenden Trust took the project under its wing and stepped in to provide a framework for advertising and booking children onto the events and providing the essential public liability insurance. The Trust has all the policies in place that are needed to make sure an event for children can be run safely. Mike Gosling, a Trust volunteer, took bookings, sent out information to parents and made sure the Trust website had the publicity flyer displayed.
Then began the hunt for activities that would fit into the restrictions in place. While through Facebook Teresa had recruited the talented Damilare Adetayo for African Drumming, as well as ringing around a huge number of providers, Sarah explains, “On a dog walk I came across a group of parents having a football kick about with their kids. I started to chat about the plans for Summer Fun and that we were on the look out for enhanced DBS cleared volunteers. One of the parents was Gaby Marston, who happens to be a Harpenden Colts coach; she put me in touch with the management team for Colts. Like all the local voluntary youth groups safety is the number one priority. Once the Colts team reviewed the risk assessments, insurance and additional Covid-19 policies in place the coaches were delighted to offer help. I then called leading local children’s entertainer Disco Danni who was instantly enthusiastic to help, as was Paul Sands, a friend of Teresa who had his arm twisted and is an expert coach from St Albans Cricket Club. There was genuine goodwill to help from so many people.”
The organising team stayed in constant communication, thinking of all possible scenarios and ensuring they were ready no matter what. One of the biggest challenges was where to hold the activities. Teresa had previously worked with Carl Tinnion of YWAM (Youth With A Mission) in relation to the town’s community bus, ‘The Harpenden Hopper’, and when asked for help YWAM kindly stepped in to offer the field at Highfield Oval as a venue. Sarah continues, “The Oval is private land, YWAM chooses to share the woods and field with the public generously allowing access to this lovely space. They could not have been kinder or more helpful – giving us endless time and being here every day to help. In fact, if it wasn’t for them – and the Harpenden Trust – we wouldn’t be here.” Pawel Ponikowski is the Trust’s Health & Safety Officer; his input was vital to ensure the events were set up safely. With the help of the amazing Sandra Jones from the YWAM events team, Pawel produced the necessary risk assessments. Sandra is a trained PE teacher, so she was a huge asset to the activities… especially on the hottest day when the water games and hose came out!
The week included football, cricket, TikTok moves, drumming, fitness, dancing, discos and more. While restrictions initially meant the team were only able to hold activities for those aged 8-11, the team even managed to work out a way to end the week with a disco for the 5-7 group, led by Disco Danni, but sadly that event was thwarted by a thunderstorm.
On the day I visited it was hot and sunny but throughout the week the team dealt with all weather conditions that came their way. Quite a lot of the children came with friends, giving them an activity to do together at a time they would otherwise quite likely be limited to hanging out in the garden or going to the park. In a normal summer they would probably have been on skills camps or courses and have had many opportunities to be with friends. As we all know, this is not a normal summer and it is amazing to see the joy that the activities – and just normally hanging out with friends – brought them.
Chris Gregory, Harpenden Colts, Training Lead said, "Harpenden Colts were delighted to be asked to deliver sessions in partnership with the Harpenden Trust this summer, we do not under estimate the impact that the Covid Pandemic has had on the emotional and physical wellbeing of Harpenden's young people and their parents. It was great to have so many of our coach’s volunteer to help and too see the enjoyment and excitement football and the other activities on offer created amongst the young people. There is nothing better for all our physical and emotional health than being outside, getting the heart pumping and socialising with peers.”
Children’s Entertainer Disco Danni said, “I was delighted to be part of Summer Fun week. I'm a Children's Entertainer, and really enjoyed teaching dance to the children. The team were lovely to work with and really put in the effort on to ensure it was a success. It was a really great week and I hope to get involved with future events.”
Paul Sands, St Albans Cricket Club, said, “It was a pleasure to support this brilliant initiative. The young people were great and seemed to really enjoy the activities - despite the Covid-19 restriction! YWAM Harpenden were extremely helpful.”
Damilare Adetayo, YWAM, said, “I felt so privileged to be able to serve the community in the areas of engaging the young people with drumming sessions, especially at this crucial time of pandemic, that many people are stressed and widely challenged. It was a great pleasure for me to be part of the event as it gives me the opportunity to put smiles on the faces of the children and even their parents. I was able to engage about 65-70 children in total.
Many of the children really enjoyed their time beating the drums. I saw the expression of joy on their faces. They also engaged so well in various ways, like getting their rhythm, coordination and focus right. They learnt so fast as well.
I saw that the drumming sessions brought a new dynamic to the event, because it’s something new to many of the children. I also got wonderful feedback from many of the parents, each day of the event. It was really a great event and I enjoyed it!”
28 August 2020